A couple of fast-made Spectrum releases for last month’s most excellent Outline demo party. Ode To Claire is a curious little 128 byte intro, using a trick I’ve been wanting to try out for ages. It’s not exactly a fast-paced action extravaganza, but it does fit 150-odd characters of avant-garde poetry, the printing routine, and a demo effect into 128 bytes of code. Working out how is an exercise for the reader (and I’m quite interested to know whether the secret is immediately obvious to anyone who’s at all familiar with the Spectrum…)
On the musical front, Snakebite is a chiptune with a middle-eastern vibe, modelled after every Turkish Eurovision entry ever. It got third place in the competition, and originally they weren’t going to give out a third prize, but they had some spare food left over on the Saturday night, so I won a jar of sausages. Best. Prize. Ever.
So February Album Writing Month is over for another year, and I’ve been completely slacking by not posting songs up here. But to kick things off, here’s a song which I wrote way back in the mists of 2008, but went unrecorded for a good while after that. It pioneered the soon-to-be-ubiquitous trend of writing songs titled after the subject lines of spam, and this recording comes courtesy of the New Year’s Eve open mic at the Old Bookbinders, Oxford.
Another month, another musical challenge bandwagon to jump on. For October the FAWM / 50/90 crowd is turning its attention to cover versions. So here’s a not-very-Kraftwerk-like instrumental version of Kraftwerk’s The Model.
50/90, or 50 Songs In 90 Days, is the less photogenic and slightly more intimidating cousin of February Album Writing Month, running throughout July, August and September. The idea is to write fif- oh, you worked that bit out already. This year FAWM supremo Burr Settles donated the song-posting infrastructure to 50/90 (previous years were run through a Yahoo group) so it became a natural off-season hangout for FAWM veterans. Me, I wasn’t planning on taking part, but since I ended up writing a couple of songs over that time period for one reason or another, it would have been silly not to crash the party late on and participate in a laid-back, not-letting-it-take-over-your-life sort of way. And here are the results.
This started out as an instrumental track laid down at Shucon 2008 on TDM’s GarageBand / MIDI setup, which came back to bite me as a nasty bit of vendor lock-in. (I figured that since GarageBand took MIDI input and stored it as MIDI-like note events, I’d be able to export it to a .mid file, right? Silly me.) Luckily I managed to salvage / re-record enough of it to work on it some more and develop it into a proper song. Spurred on by some particularly eclectic music competitions at Assembly, I decided to try my luck at entering it at Evoke, just to see what would happen when it was thrown in against a whole load of D+B and trance tracks. Not surprisingly, it failed to qualify. But having done the rounds of more or less the entire summer demo party season, it found a home at Sundown 2008, where it got 4th place. Score!
The lyrics were actually sparked by the train journey back from Shucon – at the seat in front of me, I saw that someone had drawn some initials in a heart on the window. This made me think “eww, that’s a bit tacky. Oh, hang on – whoever did that drew it on the outside of the window but did it in mirror writing so his girlfriend on the train could read it. Aww, that’s like the most romantic thing ever!”
A slightly more obviously train-related song, written to immortalise that enigma of the London Underground where time stands still, and add to the repertoire of songs about tube stations. Lyrics were mostly written on the Eurostar (hence the namecheck in the bridge) and the recording was done a-cappella stylee in the cabin of a sleeper train on the way back from International Vodka Party. Naturally, this was a horrible painstaking process of waiting for the moments when the train wasn’t making an absolute racket, but it had to be done for posterity. How many other songs have been written and recorded entirely on public transport, eh?
Written for Hoopshank as part of intense negotiations (not really) over contributing to another as yet unannounced musical project. He demanded songs of cabbage… I answered the call. I added a self-imposed constraint that the song had to have a mostly-serious message, so I came up with the idea of cabbage soup for the soul, as being something like Chicken Soup for the Soul but not as pleasant, and better for you. And suitable for vegans. And with that, the song just wrote itself. Or, more accurately, was written on my behalf by my alter ego, fictional Scottish indie band Glencoe Horse.
OK, scraping the barrel a bit here. But you can’t really blame me for having a sudden bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder on realising that the lyrics to At The River by Groove Armada consist entirely of a half-sentence that trails off unsettlingly without completing its train of thought. “If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there,” – then… what exactly? Clearly, this had to be fixed. So I did.
When I’m writing Speccy music, I’m always very conscious of stereotyping myself. At the Forever party, they gave up on anonymising music competition entries after realising that everyone in the room recognised the Gasman entry (and the Yerzmyey entry, the Factor6 entry…) within two seconds of it starting up – even if I’d gone to great lengths to reinvent myself.
This time, with two or three days left before Assembly and nothing to show, I decided to make it easy on myself, and stick with what I know – the primal boop-durr-tish-durr bassline, the crowd-pleasing echoing cascades – and not be too bothered about basking in my signature style. As a result, it’s not the most original piece of music I’ve ever written, but it did its job – it made first place in the Extreme Music competition where it was up against PC soft-synths in addition to the now familiar Commodores and Nintendos.
The title isn’t a bid to stir up controversy with drug references, by the way. I just liked the combination of words.
As a postscript to the release of tracker2ay, here’s the reason I wanted to transfer tracker files back to the Spectrum in the first place: to play X-Agon’s 6-channel Breath Of Air (as featured on the AY RidersSatellite single) the way that God intended, on two Spectrums playing 3 channels each…
Here’s a utility prompted by zxbruno and Eq both asking, in the space of two days, how to convert STC, SQT and PT3 music files to something you can actually play on a Spectrum. For those not in the know, STC and friends are Spectrum tracker file formats originally introduced by Sergey Bulba‘s AY Emulator and which are now the de-facto standard for archiving Spectrum demoscene music (most prominently on ZXDemo, ZXTunes and Sergey’s epic Tr_songs archive). Which means it’s a bit unfortunate that there’s not been an obvious way to transfer them back to the Spectrum.
In principle it should just be a case of locating the appropriate Z80 player routine and bundling that together with the music data. In practice it involves a lot of faffing about (such as repointing pointers to make up for slight rubbishness in the SQT data format, and writing a 5-line Basic loader/player). Now, thanks to this utility, you just need to type tracker2ay mysong.stc mysong.tap instead. (Oh, and it can convert to TAP, TZX or AY.)
If at this point you’re screaming “But why does it have separate source code if it’s written in Ruby, which is an interpreted language?” then award yourself 20 geek points. Ah, you see, this time I’ve been playing with rubyscript2exe (and tar2rubyscript) to create all-in-one executables that everyone can enjoy without worrying about library dependencies and things. (But obfuscates the code in the process. But in a good way.) Please do check out the source code if you’re curious about that sort of thing, because I reckon it’s one of the best bits of code I’ve written in a long time, in a ‘nicely-written code’ sort of way rather than ‘evil complicated hacks that go together to do something superficially elegant’.
There just aren’t enough songs about computer graphics pioneers. Here’s one about Bui Tuong Phong, of phong shading and phong illumination fame. I decided to record this one entirely without keyboards, so brace yourselves for a gloriously shoddy guitar solo and a gloriously glorious bottle solo. (Forgetting to take out the recycling can be a good thing, you know.)
It had to be done. After my album cover generator came up with Glencoe Horse’s seminal Are Great Things Born, I was compelled to write a song with that title, in the style of Glencoe Horse, whoever they may be. The result is some not-very-profound Forrest Gump philosophy (actually there’s shades of Doctor Seuss about it too), but performed in the Britpop tones of everyone’s favourite non-existent Scottish indie band.